COLLEGE STATION, Texas — After the horn sounded for Kentucky, a smiling Matthew Mitchell's guttural yell could be heard all around the stunned Reed Arena.
Just four days after being handed their worst loss of the season by South Carolina on their home floor, the No. 15 Cats rebounded on the road to beat No. 16 Texas A&M 83-74 on Sunday.
"A big part of our season has been bouncing back, so we've done a great job of bouncing back off of tough losses," senior forward DeNesha Stallworth said. "We knew we needed this win and we just stayed together and played with confidence."
The Cats' season has been all about picking themselves up off the court and trying to find a way to win games. Kentucky did it on Sunday with balanced scoring and an unconventional defense (by UK standards).
Stallworth, with 11 points and 12 rebounds, was one of seven UK players with six or more points in the victory. Junior guard Jennifer O'Neill led the scoring with 17 points and four rebounds.
Kentucky (20-7, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) has had to take on the role of rubber ball after beginning the season 12-1 — with wins over top-10 teams like Louisville and Baylor — then limping through league play, barely hovering above .500 for most of January and February.
With March on the horizon, Mitchell hopes the team that knocked off two ranked teams on their home courts on consecutive Sundays is the UK team that will head into March.
"We have a talented team, we just have to stay together," said the UK coach, whose team has now won 20 or more games five straight seasons. "We have a month, literally a month, before we play our first NCAA Tournament game and we just need to become our best."
Mitchell and his players are still trying to figure out what that team is going to look like. It's not a "40 minutes of dread" defensive team right now. In fact, Kentucky's 2-3 zone was the biggest problem for the Aggies (21-7, 11-3).
"We've certainly had some rocky times and some rough road. To come in and win a game like today is huge, and we just need to hang on this next month and become the very best team we can be," he said. "So I'll just have to let you know later exactly what that's going to be."
Offensively on Sunday, it was a team that scored on layups and in transition. It was a team that used depth to its advantage, outscoring the Aggies 53-10 in that stat.
"I just wanted our players to have a real aggressive mindset," said Mitchell, whose team only shot six three-pointers, making four, including a long-range missile from O'Neill in transition that gave the Cats their largest lead of the game, 73-64, with five minutes to go.
"I thought we could attack in transition and boy we had some huge transition buckets when A&M was sort of making a run and feeling good about themselves."
After O'Neill's three-pointer, the Aggies scored six straight to get within three. UK answered by going back to the line behind freshmen Linnae Harper (16 points) and Makayla Epps (11 points, four assists and zero turnovers).
"They shot layup after layup after layup and getting to the hole with ease against our man to man defense," Aggies Coach Gary Blair said.
"I thought our team was finally ready for a momentum-type game and I thought every time we fought our way back in, they made some key shots and they were more ready to play."
After being outrebounded 44-19 by South Carolina on Thursday at Memorial Coliseum, Kentucky found a way to get back on the boards, topping a taller Texas A&M 47-32 in that stat, too.
In the first half, Samarie Walker had 10 rebounds to 12 for the Aggies, who had just two offensive boards in that half.
Walker finished with 14 rebounds to go with her eight points.
Sophomore guard Courtney Walker scored 17 points for the Aggies in the first half and kept them in the game, but she made just two of her 12 attempts in the second half and finished with a game-best 26 points in the loss.
It was the kind of win that could cause a Cats coach to scream and smile at the same time as the buzzer sounded.
"Proud of our players from bouncing back from a real disappointment Thursday night ," he said. "They worked extremely hard to get better Friday and Saturday and it paid off with a huge win today."